Abrazos Fuerte for 2016

Dear Friends,

Last year, ironically without anticipating all the difficult emotional terrain I would cover, I selected the word “Awaken” (or awake, I cannot recall!!) as my “Word of the Year.”  Boy did I subconsciously Nail It!  The Universe mercifully gave me lots of wake-up calls……and my Divine Power gave me the strength to answer.  Suffice it to say, our family soared through potentially staggering emotional challenges and I am now a strong, proud “Friend of Bill’s” (aka Recovering Alcoholic).

This year, it took fewer than 5 minutes to imagine my guiding phrase/philosophy:  “Abrazos Fuerte” – Translated from Spanish, it means “Strong Hugs.”  Our wise and adoring Primo from Argentina (Spanish for Male First Cousin), Charlie, always ends his written communication with this beautiful phrase – it is his “signature.”

Cousin Charlie (pictured above, enjoying his 71st birthday in Bariloche, Argentina and in 1998, “supervising”  my sister-in-law Christine in the family tradition of empanada making), is a strong and loving figure in our family.  He is the existing “Patriarch” of the Tamburini family of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the homeland of my husband’s father, Mario Tamburini (my son has his name).

Charlie is the lifeline between my husband and his Argentinian heritage – he can tell us stories and share history that brings the family ancestry to life and provides a strong foundation for our children.  When my husband and I announced the news of our engagement to the Argentinian branch of the family, they sent telegrams of congratulations and Charlie offered me abrazos fuerte in the form of one simple line:  “Grandma Isabel is smiling for she would have found you extremely simpatico.”  Simpatico means likeable and easy to get along with.  WHO COULD ARGUE WITH THAT?!!!!

Anyway, life continues to amaze me and the journey would be impossible without MUCHOS ABRAZOS FUERTE.  As a side note, I should add that the Tamburini family are known to be extremely strong huggers – so much so that my sisters, as Aunts, have had to caution my son Mario before hugging, “Not too hard, Mario!”.  I am the proud Mother of 2 very strong huggers – they will do well in life.

The infamous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo published in Time Magazine from “V-J Day in Times Square 1945” really, for me, visually depicts the spirit of what I hope to achieve in everything I do with everyone I encounter in 2016.  In life, one must march onward and celebrate moments with laughter and abrazos fuerte or else what the hell is the point?

Happy New Year, friends!  May 2016 bring each of you your own special moments of warm embraces that melt away life’s jagged edges.

Love always,

Joanie, the Big Cheese on Cheeky Street

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The Difference Between Laziness and Spiritual Peace

Lately I have been on an inner journey.  I won’t say I have “neglected” housework, but let’s just state for the record that I am blissfully tuned out of my immediate visual surroundings. Nobody in my family seems to mind.  Clothes get washed, dinners get served and eaten, pets are not neglected, Fall decorations are properly appointed.  Outwardly, everything seems “normal.”

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What started out feeling like a mid-life boycott of mundane chores has now become – well, more of a daily meditation on the essential.  Gratitude for all that we have been given tops my list of essentials.  When my eyelids pop open in the morning and the awareness of feeling whole and not broken by alcohol, ugly words spewed to a loved one the night before – I breathe deeply and thank God for the blessing of one more day.  Whatever I choose to do with that day, my underlying goal is LOVE.

Is a clean house essential to love?  No.  Right now, at 49 and managing a life with 2 teenagers, a husband intent on planning the sunset of his career, and a boatload of aging siblings and Mother whom I love – I give myself permission to LOVE FIRST, clean second.  I used to think I was getting lazy because I did notice the slowing down.  This coincided with my sobriety, which began almost 5 months ago.

The whole point of sobriety is to NOTICE, EXPERIENCE and CHERISH the good.  This requires slowing down (at least for me) and focusing on NOW.  As much as I love and enjoy these new feelings, it is true my standards of tidiness which were low to begin with – have gotten a little lower.

Nobody is complaining.  So I must not be lazy.

When I am an old woman I will remember the sunsets I watched, not the floors I mopped.
When I am an old woman I will remember the sunsets I watched, not the floors I mopped.

An Apple Crisp for Suri

Kitchen-Parade-2009-Apple-Crisp-400-776195 Last year, I decided to do several things to “educate” myself in hopes it might lead me to my next “thing” in life.  I enrolled in Community College – but it didn’t take long for me to realize what a dumb idea that was.  I’d been away from the rigors of school too long.  THAT’S the “big lesson” I learned from that.  But earlier in the year I committed to volunteering a few days each month at a local Food Pantry.  Starting to get the sense that this is where my “big learning” took place? For months, I was too shy to work directly with the visitors to the pantry – I would smile and greet them while packing away food items in the back.  It took a lot of courage for me to be ready to face them one-on-one and feel that I could answer questions with confidence and sufficient cheer.  You see, I am a bit of a crybaby!  When I see suffering, sometimes I cry.  And I certainly did not want to repeat that horrific scene from 25 years ago when I broke down in tears in front of a Cancer Survivors group as their guest speaker!  I was not expecting their faces to be so young – I panicked and suddenly the room closed in on me and I got hot and then the tears started rolling down my cheeks in spite of my wish to appear “professional.”  It happens.  Vulnerability.  Compassion.  It catches us by surprise throughout life.  Well, it was never going to catch me by surprise again.  So I remained in the back of the Food Pantry dutifully stuffing bags for people to take home. Until the day Margaret told me she needed me at the front counter.  She was too busy to do her ordinary job at the Pantry that day and I had been there more than long enough to be able to check id’s and cross off names.  I heaved a big sigh and headed over towards the counter.  I tried not to let Margaret see the enormous panic I was feeling as the line outside the door began to grow.  One by one, our visitors politely stepped inside our Food Pantry and graciously accepted whatever we had to offer that morning.

Things were going really well.  Until the thing that caught me off guard happened.  Until the opposite of my “image” of what a Food Pantry patron ought to look like stepped up to my counter.

He was in is early 40’s, very physically capable looking and quite handsome.  And his smile and cheerful attitude would have made you think he was shopping somewhere really special.  I realized I had a few misguided preconceptions about pride before this moment, too.  As naturally as if we were longtime friends, he initiated the conversation, “Oh, my goodness!   You have fresh apples today!  I have already picked up my oats and my flour.  Is that butter I see behind the apples, also,” he pointed toward the back of the table I was managing but that thing was starting to happen to me when I am caught off guard by big emotions – I could not see anything around me and I was getting hot!!!!  Margaret noticed right away I was not myself and, fearing I might be afraid of this man, she answered very nonchalantly, “Yes, we have lots of free butter for you today!”.  That helped, I had a moment to take a breath.  The man smiled an even bigger grin and let out a robust laugh then said, “Suri is going to be so happy when she gets home from school today!”. Before I could ask, he started to tell me, “Suri’s my girl – it’s just the two of us.  She’s five and she loves school.  And more than that, she LOVES a fresh apple crisp!.”  I began placing fresh apples and butter in a bag for the gentleman and my thoughts immediately went to my own children when I heard his words.  I love baking for my kids, too – and I especially love surprising them with their favorite treats after a long day at school.  We’re not so awfully different, then, from our Food Pantry patrons, are we?

After Suri’s Dad was long gone and we were preparing to close the Pantry for the weekend, I noticed a slip of paper that someone had dropped in the hallway.  When I looked at it, I recognized Suri’s Dad’s name and the date was the same day.  Before coming to the Food Pantry, Suri’s Dad did something I’ll bet he hated – so he’d have weekend cash for his little girl.  He had been to a Pawn Shop and left some dvd’s – and in exchange, he was paid $10.00 plus 423% interest due when he retrieved his belongings!  But precious Suri would have her apple crisp and her Dad will have provided for his child – and experienced the joy we all do as parents when we are able to give our children special treats.  He just had to pay a much bigger price than most of us to do it. This lesson is sticking with me.  It makes me profoundly humble for all the abundance in my life.  It makes me appreciate that unique feeling that not all parents can enjoy all the time – of being able to provide for my children. For to give really is much better than to receive!!!